Child abuse is defined as the ill-treatment of children under the care of those who should provide for them properly. This is considered morally wrong, particularly because of the trust a child would put in their caretaker or parents, allowing abusers almost free rein to do what they like without too much fear. Although, if they are caught, child abusers are usually top targets for vigilantes.
There are, sadly, many forms of child abuse, some intentional and some not. These include:
- Physical abuse.
- Emotional abuse.
- Manipulating the child; parents use 'head games' to get what they want in return for conditional love, etc., training children to doubt and hate themselves and manipulate others.
- Using emotional put-downs, intimidation, humiliation, and personal attacks constantly to destroy the child's self-esteem and make the child feel only conditional love from the parent.
- Mocks or make sarcastic jokes about the child in front of strangers and family members. Denies harm if child is upset and blames child for overreacting to a joke.
- Disrespects child's privacy by snooping in the child room and desks and journals, and the parent accuses the child for being sneaky and distrusting.
- Putting a child to an impossible standard and blaming the child if the child fails. Always comparing child to others, including siblings, damaging self esteem and fostering resentment among siblings.
- Constantly blaming and guilt tripping the child for problems, not taking responsibility, or trivializing the child's emotions. Refusing to take responsibility for actions and if the child complains about abuse, especially to third parties including the police, the parent may try denying the abuse and punish the child for making them look bad. Parent can put up a show so people see only their nice side and thus people will believe the parent.
- Frequently attacking the child's self-worth to the point where the child wishes to self-harm or even suicide to try to cope with the emotional pain.
- Cutting off or otherwise controlling a child's interaction with friends or trying to insert a wedge into other relationships (e.g. parent demanding why the child likes a friend more than the parent). Parent can try to convince children to distrust or avoid therapists or experts or otherwise trustworthy adults because the adults will otherwise criticize the behavior. Parents can also try to assign therapists that do not work for the child's interests.
- Passive aggressive tactics apply. A parent can use a calm voice but with an overly hostile tone. When the child becomes upset, the parent can accuse the child of responding inappropriately and then justify more hostility from the parent. Or if the parent and child face a conflict, the parent can shut out more interaction with the child by deliberately ignoring the child and otherwise actively avoiding contact.
- Killing the child's pet(s) or destroying the child's property as punishment.
- Diaper discipline — a rather twisted form of emotional abuse, this involves the parent forcing a trained child to wear and use diapers as a shaming tactic. Some will take it to even creepier lengths where the child is treated like a baby by making them use bottles, pacifiers, etc. Don't even get us started on the folks who try to include breastfeeding with this abomination.
- Putting children in situations where they are obliged to witness scenes of adult violence. Allowing children to witness psychological and physical abuse to a spouse.
- Forcing children to lie about important matters.
- Deliberately choosing not to vaccinate one's children (except where the child has an allergic or otherwise adverse reaction to vaccines).
- Not seeking proper medical care for religious reasons.
- Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP). Munchausen syndrome is a psychological condition (one of a category called *factitious disorders*) in which a patient fakes an illness or deliberately makes themself sick to get attention and sympathy from medical professionals. (Importantly, this is not done for any material gain such as getting time off work, but rather a pathological need for attention and caring from others, similar to why some people engage in other forms of self-harm.) In the "by proxy" subtype, a parent forces their own child to become sick, usually through the ingestion of pills, other poisonous chemicals, feces, or other pathogenic materials. Julie Gregory described being the target of her mother's MSbP in sickening detail, including (as demonstrative and not exhaustive examples) the aforementioned administration of medication and giving her a diet based on what doctors had told her not to eat.
Physical and emotional abuse are not mutually exclusive, as many components of physical abuse also inflicts emotional harm to the child. Children who are abused may be inadvertently taught bad social and/or emotional skills in the process, including passive aggressive behavior, other relational aggression, self-hatred and doubt, etc.
More controversial forms
Some members of RationalWiki also think there are other forms of child abuse, which can be equally crippling to the child and equally bad for the society in which it occurs. These are controversial mostly because a large portion of the population do it and consider it perfectly acceptable.
- Denying the child access to facts about the world they live in.
- Telling the child lies about the nature of other people.
- Refusing to expose the child to ideas outside a small range.
- Indoctrinating the child in religious (or atheistic, or political) mythology.
- Using the religious idea of eternal damnation to frighten children into following certain rules (such as the rule of belief in a god).
- Telling the child that their race, religion, gender, or country is intrinsically better or worse than all others.
- Generating a sense of guilt in children in respect of natural sexual development.
- Telling a child what to think rather than teaching a child how to reasonably think for themselves.
- Hell Houses
- Mutilating the child's genitals, whether male, female, or intersex.
- Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
- Catholic Church
- Child sexual abuse
- Richard Dawkins on religious child abuse
- Dynastic gymnastics — a Russian treatment that involves swinging babies around, sometimes quite violently
- Focus on the Family
- Paida lajin — a treatment devised by Hongchi Xiao that involves slapping people as young as 6 years old
- To Train Up a Child
- Religion's Real Child Abuse by Richard Dawkins
- PZ Myers lists some Papal excuses
- The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- Most US states have laws against leaving a child under thirteen home alone.